by Sophie Williams ‘23
These first hundred days have been a hundred days that we expected and received.
In 19F, I attended a talk called The Moral Case for Free Enterprise by Dr. Yaron Brook, Chairman of the Ayn Rand Institute, that was organized by the College Libertarians. Dr. Brook said many interesting things in the lecture, but could also be properly criticized and questioned by the audience, and in this process, ended up somehow offering a defense of child slavery as a natural and even necessary catalyst for progress. In my opinion, this was a bit reductionist and dealt a serious blow to the moral case Dr. Brook had been presenting — but isn’t that the point of engaging with the marketplace of ideas? This event was pre-COVID-19 and in-person. Participants could ask questions in their own words and tones, talk quietly to fellow audience members, and communicate with the hosting organization before and after the event. I miss the experiences of, for example, getting a Dartmouth College Libertarians sticker, or seeing which of my fellow students would attend the event, and why.
Looking back to in-person events really emphasizes the deficiencies of zoom events — namely those that designate panelists and audience members, use only the submission Q&A feature instead of calling on participants, and disable the chat feature entirely. I understand the desire to keep an audience from making side conversations, interruptions, jokes, and disrespectful comments. But stifling audience interaction is a suppression of engagement in voluntary lectures available to students and guests. It might be worth it, but it certainly dampens the experience. Is this supposed to be college or YouTube?
BIDEN’S FIRST 100 DAYS EVENT
This week, Rocky Watch hosted a panel on Biden’s first 100 days in office. It wasn’t overly informative; the two guest panelists were experienced, Amanda Brown Lierman ‘07 and James Baehr ‘05, who worked on the Obama and the Trump administrations respectively, and the content was mostly a mild defense of each administration and political parties’ methods, plus some personal insights. There was some concern over losing the marketplace of ideas, and some admiration placed on identity politics. They praised the vaccine rollout, noted that executive orders are really not as long-lasting as slower, harder policy that goes through Congress, and mentioned that many of Biden’s moves have been continuations of Trump’s (pointing to rental assistance and competition with China). It was interesting to hear that in Obama’s 2008 campaign he posted one tweet, a victory announcement, and to see how far Twitter had come as a vital campaign tool even by 2012. Overall, it was a fine but mild discussion.
What I really took away from this event was the difference in the question I asked, the question that was posed to the panelists, and the question they answered.
This was my question typed in the Q&A box: “For both panelists, based on your close experience with presidential administrations, how do you think the back-and-forth “Republicans versus Democrats” media tango is used as a distraction? Is this ever intentionally discussed within the administration? How does switching administrations relieve previous presidents/ administration of responsibility, even though it’s the same country and the same government?”
This was what was relayed by the moderator: “In the long run is there any hope of a return to bipartisanship, or does politics just dictate that one party’s success in the White House is an enemy of the other? How fatalistic or optimistic are you about this divisive partisanship being central to our government?"
I know it was (supposed to be) my question because the moderator said “from Sophie” before he asked it. As such, the panelists could address the goals and struggles and hopes of “bipartisanship” and “unity” and perform the exact dance that I asked about rather than addressing a critique of it.
Maybe the panelists were never privy to any intentional charade of struggle between the Republican and Democrat parties. Maybe they do believe that there are only two sides and that the American government does represent everyone’s interests and can and will work for progress. Maybe they really don’t give creed to how imperialism, war-mongering, corporatism, elitism, and upholding capitalism are bipartisan efforts that really matter the most. And maybe they do feel that leftist students are overly cynical and naive. But maybe they could at least hear out the questions posed, even very indirectly, that ask about these things.
I asked another question during the Q&A, something about their opinions on the bipartisan imposition of cruel and aggressive (I did not even use such adjectives in my question) sanctions, especially in the light of COVID-19 suffering. But strangely, the moderator said, “We have one more question about tech,” and relayed something about the parties uniting on digital transformation to compete in manufacturing, a question that came in after mine.
And it’s not like my questions were buried in a slew of questions. The number of participants wasn’t available to see, but there were only 5 or 6 questions total, including the two of mine. Towards the end of the Q&A section, all questions became visible for all participants, but prior to that viewers could only see their own question, and there was no way to see the discrepancy between what was asked and what was relayed.
One of the panelists had her very young baby with her on screen, and a meeting with her organization later that evening, and I understand. I don’t mean to attack the volunteer panelists, and I know they have much on their plates. But this kind of tiny suppression categorizes certain opinions as always irrelevant, always attacks, always inappropriate.
There’s no glory in being stubbornly, irrelevantly controversial at an event. But there’s much less in mangling the content out of relevant and unapologetic questions, no matter how they criticize the volunteer panelists. Maybe they don’t want to deal with the annoying and naive (in their eyes) questions of cynical, critical students. With the isolationist zoom panel format, they never have to.
As for my statement on the first hundred days…
Biden’s main promise is happening: COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to Americans. While 130 million have yet to receive any shot, about half are at least partially vaccinated, though popular demand is falling. Meanwhile, the United States is projected to have at least 300 million surplus doses, bought and hoarded like the toilet paper of the early pandemic, while the majority of Africa and Latin America could be waiting for vaccinations until I graduate from Dartmouth.
As the panelists also stated, we know Biden is a moderate. And my perspective on the term “moderate” is that it is a misleading and even violent category. A moderate approach to continuing a violent legacy is not reasonable. I can’t respect moderates that argued for the invasion of Iraq, knowing the evidence of WMDs was fabricated and insufficient (and that Iraq posed little real threat to America even if it was true). I can’t respect moderates that choose to bomb Syria, continuing the policy of their Vice Presidency, barely a month after returning to the President’s office. I can’t respect moderates in the media that air a 60 Minutes show on Syria’s human rights violations to drum up American support for said bombing a week before. I can’t respect moderates that somehow claim they can and should end “human rights violations” by bombing those same violated people. I can’t respect moderates that pretend to “end endless wars” (that are completely in their control to end) by naming a date to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, while planning to leave every military contractor in place. I can’t respect moderates that were first complicit in, and now directly responsible in supporting, the continued destruction of Yemen — who declare an end to the war in Yemen, but are continuing almost all operations as usual three months later. I can’t respect moderates who refuse to support the broad TRIPS waiver that organizations and nations have been calling for since October. Instead, the Biden administration gives a press release in May (supporting a TRIPS waiver if not the globally -fought-for TRIPS waiver), announcing possible “negotiations” and reaping positive media headlines very prematurely.
And I can’t respect moderates who take a “moderate” stance on addressing climate change, the very least moderate challenge facing this planet. To take a moderate stance against the overtly aggressive profit-chasing programs of industries we know are already making the environment inhabitable for millions is extreme. To refuse to adjust severe sanctions and contrived intellectual property regulations that are forcing vaccine appartied on millions of people is violent. To tolerate child slavery, as long as it’s outsourced, is extreme. And to remain in the government for nearly 50 years and still believe that four more years (spent promoting wet-sandwich policy stances that always punch left and step right) can “create change” is, if not violent, hopelessly naive. So, I don’t know if I think Biden “restored dignity” to the presidency, nor that his administration can be “held accountable” to just about anything, two basically impossible tasks.
These first hundred days have been a hundred days that we expected and received.
Zoom as an event format is highly accessible and convenient, but seriously limits engagement if chat disabling and audio-asked questions are used. This first 100 days indicates the unity-speak, lukewarm regression-and-progress, and under-the-table back-handedness that will likely inform the remainder of the Biden presidency, until Tucker Carlson runs and wins in 2024.